Hugo’s Cellar, Las Vegas, Nevada

If you’re looking for a true Continental restaurant in Las Vegas, there is only one: Hugo’s Cellar. It’s a great pick if you want gracious table-side service, flambé dishes, and an old-fashioned (i.e. old school) dining experience.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

dining room

 

Hugo’s Cellar’s is located (you guessed it) beneath street level, under the main casino at the Four Queens in downtown. Enter the noisy casino from hectic Fremont Street, look for the restaurant’s staircase in the back of the casino, and descend into a more peaceful and genteel world. There is a small bar and cocktail lounge in the front, and the maître d’hôtel‘s stand, where you will be greeted and the ladies presented with a long-stemmed rose. The dining room is decorated with brick, thick wooden beams on the ceiling, green lanterns and Tiffany lamps. It has an elegant old-fashioned feel that seems older than its origin in 1973 as Hugo’s Rotisserie (when the hotel was owned by Hyatt Hotels). The Four Queens has changed hands a couple of times since then but Hugo’s has remained (it was renamed Hugo’s Cellar about 30 years ago). The most recent owner of the hotel vowed never to change Hugo’s – bravo!

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

the martini came with a refill!

 

The tuxedoed waiters are all highly professional, some with decades of service at Hugo’s. Waiter Victor Hutchings has been with the restaurant for 39 years and sommelier Jon Simmons for 32 years (when he started in 1984 he was one of only three sommeliers in Las Vegas restaurants). Service was very attentive and gracious, with multiple staff attending to our table of three.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

waiter preparing table-side duckling anise flambé

 

The menu is truly Continental, featuring such classics as duckling anise flambé, veal Oscar, chicken champignon, and beef Wellington. But it’s also a fine steakhouse with char-broiled steaks aged 28 days, as well as prime rib and seafood entrees. All entrees include a salad prepared table-side how you like it from a rolling cart, vegetables, potatoes or rice, delicious homemade bread and cheese-toasted lavosh, dessert of chocolate dipped strawberries and fruit, and bottled water. Service was impeccable, with multiple waiters attending to our every need.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

duckling anise flambé

 

After-dinner fruit is included with your meal but you should definitely try one the flaming table-side desserts like bananas Foster or cherries jubilee!

 

The next time you are in Las Vegas, you should check out downtown. There are lots of hotels (I like Main Street Station), the fascinating Mob Museum, a few good cocktail bars, a shopping/food/entertainment center called Container Park, and some great classic restaurants like Hugo’s Cellar and Binion’s Ranch Steakhouse (now called Top of Binion’s but I prefer the older name), which I didn’t visit this trip but I have dined at before. On my last three visits to Las Vegas I mostly avoided the Strip and I didn’t miss it at all.

 

Hugo’s Cellar
202 Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101
702-385-4011
Open 5:00pm – 10:00pm daily

 

Trader Vic’s, Emeryville, California

Recently I heard some sad news that the Portland outpost of Trader Vic’s closed after a fire. The Portland location was the best of the “new” Trader Vic’s in the U.S. which opened in the new millennium. I know it was because I went to all the new locations, with the exception of the Las Vegas one (mainly because the consensus in the tiki community was that the Vegas one was poorly designed – too sleek and not like a classic Trader Vic’s). The closure leaves only two Trader Vic’s open in the country, in Atlanta (covered by Le Continental) and in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco.

 

Hinky Dink's, Oakland - image from tradervics.com

Hinky Dinks, Oakland – image from tradervics.com

 

In 1934 San Francisco-born Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. borrowed $500 from his aunt and opened a tavern in Oakland at San Pablo Ave. & 65th St. called Hinky Dinks. He acted as bartender and cook, serving mainly beer and sandwiches. But in 1938, after traveling to the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Hollywood, where he visited Don the Beachcomber (opened 1933), he decided to convert a portion of his modest bar into a cocktail lounge solely “for ladies and their escorts” called the Bamboo Room, where he served mixed drinks “from all around the world” such as the Mojito, “Cuban Presidente”, “Barbados Red Rum Swizzle”, “Maui Fizz”, Raffles Bar Sling, and the Pisco Punch [source: Oakland Tribune July 28, 1938 via tikiroom.com]. He also renamed his bar and restaurant Trader Vic’s around this time.

 

Trader Vic's, Oakland, c. 1960 via tikiroom.com

Trader Vic’s, Oakland, c. 1960 via tikiroom.com

 

Word spread about the bon vivant host with a wooden leg (he lost his leg as a child from tuberculosis) who was serving Chinese food (he learned to make by visiting Chinatown in SF) and fancy cocktails in Oakland. The new Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-40 helped business. Herb Caen wrote in 1941: “the best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland”.

 

Trader Vic's bar, Oakland - postcard image via SwellMap on Flickr

Trader Vic’s bar, Oakland – postcard image via SwellMap on Flickr

 

In 1944 Victor Bergeron invented the Mai-Tai at Trader Vic’s in Oakland, where he also developed the full-blown Polynesian restaurant concept with tikis, nautical decor, flotsam from around the world, and of course bamboo. In 1948 he opened his second restaurant, The Outrigger in Seattle (changed to Trader Vic’s in 1960) and in 1951 he opened his San Francisco restaurant.

 

Trader Vic's, San Francisco - image via tikiroom.com

Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – image via tikiroom.com

 

The San Francisco location became very popular, frequented by celebrities, politicians, and royalty (Queen Elizabeth visited in 1983) until it closed in 1993. Today the French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial occupies the building but you can see Trader Vic Alley as a tribute to what was once there.

 

Tiki Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Tiki Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

 

Garden Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Garden Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

 

Hong Kong Room, Trader Vic's, San Francisco - postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

Hong Kong Room, Trader Vic’s, San Francisco – postcard via SwellMap on Flickr

 

The Trader Vic’s restaurant chain grew worldwide through the post-war years’ massive popularity of exotic escapism via tropical drinks, Polynesian food, Hawaiian and South Pacific culture, and exotica music. In the waning years of the heyday of Polynesian Pop a new Trader Vic’s opened in the Bay Area, in Emeryville, and the Oakland location closed in 1972.

 

Trader Vic's newspaper advertisement, 1972

Trader Vic’s newspaper advertisement, 1972

 

Trader Vic's, Emeryville - postcard image via hmdavid on Flickr

Trader Vic’s, Emeryville – postcard image via hmdavid on Flickr

 

Some new Trader Vic’s locations opened in the Bay Area in recent years (Palo Alto, 2001-2012 & San Francisco, 2004-2007) but Emeryville has remained the flagship location of Trader Vic’s in the world. The company has its headquarters there and much of the decor from now-closed locations around the country ends up at this Trader Vic’s.

 

bar and lounge, Trader Vic's Emeryville via EaterSF

bar and lounge, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

 

The Emeryville location has seen some remodeling since my first visit about 20 years ago. There was an unfortunate remodel of the cocktail lounge several years ago which gave it a white a-frame ceiling and a lighter nautical look. In 2010 it closed for a few months but thankfully came back looking better; a return to the classic tiki bar look with more tikis and traditional decor throughout the restaurant. And the a-frame ceiling over the lounge is looking great again! There is a lot to see so when you visit take some time to look at the items hanging on walls, above, and around you.

 

decor, Trader Vic's Emeryville via K on Flickr

decor, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via K on Flickr

 

tikis, Trader Vic's Emeryville via K on Flickr

tikis, Trader Vic’s Emeryville via K on Flickr

 

The dining room is wonderful, with large windows looking out on the marina and towards San Francisco. Try to reserve a table with a window view for a romantic meal without peer in the Bay Area.

 

Tiki Room, Trader Vic's, Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

Tiki Room, Trader Vic’s, Emeryville via EaterSF on Flickr

 

The food has also gotten better since my first visit. Highly recommended are anything from the Chinese ovens (the pork chop and steaks are great). And you have to get a Mai Tai where it was invented! Tip: order an “original Mai Tai” which is made from scratch rather than from a mix.

 

Trader Vic, 1902-1984 (photo taken at San Francisco location)

Trader Vic, 1902-1984 (photo taken at San Francisco location)

 

Sadly, we lost many classic Trader Vic’s in recent years, so the remaining two are treasures to be enjoyed as often as possible. So won’t you check out Trader Vic’s in Emeryville when you visit the Bay Area? Please tell maître d’hôtel Claudette Lum that I sent you.

 

Of all the Trader Vic’s (besides Emeryville) I have visited the following:
Beverly Hills (1955-2007; it used to be my favorite; there is a sleek Trader Vic’s lounge now which is nothing close to the original but you probably can get a good Mai Tai there as I hear some of the veteran bartenders are still around).
Chicago (1957-2005; new location 2008-2011)
London (1963-now)
Munich (1971-now)
Atlanta (1976-now)
Palo Alto (2001-2012)
San Francisco (2004-2007)
Bellevue, WA (2006-2008)
Los Angeles (2009-2014)
Portland (2011-2016)

 

Trader Vic’s
9 Anchor Dr, Emeryville, CA 94608
(510) 653-3400
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am – 11:00pm, Sat 5:00pm-10:30pm, Sun 5:00pm-10:00pm

 

 

Shanahan’s on the Green, Dublin, Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, readers! I finally visited Ireland in 2014 and was captivated by the Emerald Isle and its people. On my visit to Dublin I visited a lot of historic pubs but historic restaurants were few. I went with friends to dinner at Lord Edward, a venerable pub and seafood restaurant (the third-floor restaurant has since closed but the wonderful  pub and lounge on the first two floors remain open). And I had steak dinner at the elegant steakhouse Shanahan’s on the Green, which is fairly new (established in 1998) but it feels like a classic restaurant so it’s getting coverage on Le Continental.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

photo via wheretoeatat.ie

 

Shanahan’s is owned by John Shanahan, an American entrepreneur of Irish descent who takes residence in the U.S. but visits Ireland often so he opened an American style steakhouse. Remember commercials for “Hooked on Phonics” which aired a lot on the radio in the 90s? It was John Shanahan who started that company with is background in music.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

dining room via mytable.com

 

Shanahan’s is located in a pair of preserved historic Georgian townhouses built by architect Richard Cassells (aka Richard Castle) on lovely St. Stephen’s Green in the center of Dublin. The restaurant is elegant with Rococo decor, white linen tablecloths, plush furniture and carpet in red and gold, fine silverware, and waiters in ties with waistcoats. This is a restaurant for dressing up.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

Oval Office Bar via travelers411.com

 

One of the best features of Shanahan’s is the cozy Oval Office Bar in the basement. The bar is dedicated to American presidents of Irish ancestry and its centerpiece is JFK’s rocking chair behind the bar, which he used on Air Force One. It’s a great place to have a cocktail before dinner or a whiskey after dinner.

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Shanahan’s only serves Certified Irish Angus beef from Aberdeen-Angus cattle, a breed developed in Scotland and imported into Ireland in the 19th century. The dinner menu features five beef steaks as well as lamb, pork, and seafood dishes. The prices are in line with high-end American steakhouses and steaks are à la carte (some entrees come with sides). I opted for the 18 oz New York strip sirloin, a side of creamed spinach (served in a copper pan), and french fries. The steak had great flavor but I think next time I would order the rib-eye or filet. I felt like my steak was more like top sirloin than NY strip (top sirloin is my favorite low-priced steak but this was not low-priced).

 

Shanahan's on the Green, Dublin

closeup of steak – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

The service was top-notch. Definitely a top pick if you are in Dublin and craving a steak in an elegant, old-fashioned dining room.

 

Shanahan’s on the Green
119 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
Phone +353 1 407 0939
Open Mon-Fri 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm, lunch only on Fridays 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm, Sat 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm

 

Can Culleretes, Barcelona, Spain

Last year we visited Spain’s oldest restaurant, Sobrina de Botin. Today we are going to Spain’s second oldest restaurant (also Catalonia’s oldest restaurant), which I went to in 2004.

 

Can Culleretes

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Can Culleretes (basically “House of Spoons” in Catalan) in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona started out in 1786 as a dessert café (which is the most likely source of its name) serving crema catalana, chocolate, puddings, and horchata (tigernuts, water, and sugar). In the late 19th century Tito Regás purchased it and converted it to a restaurant. For the restaurant’s decor he had three large murals painted by Francesc Tey, hung large iron chandeliers, and hired famous Catalan ceramicist Xavier Nogués to create decorative panels. The result is a beautiful and restful space, perfect for a leisurely meal. In my opinion, too many new restaurants in Barcelona go for minimalist, sleek decor, which feels cold and boring. I prefer a warm, classic restaurant like Can Culleretes with a lot to look at.

 

Can Culleretes

photo by Enfo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35648909

 

Can Culleretes

ceramic panels by Xavier Nogués – photo by Enfo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35648911

 

In the middle of the 20th century Sussi Manubens and Siscu Agut took over the restaurant and still run it (with their children and grandchildren’s help). On the walls hang many photos of famous Catalan matadors, musicians, artists, politicians, and journalists who have visited the restaurant since the Manubens and Agut families took over.

 

Can Culleretes

photo by Dean Curtis, 2004

 

The menu is traditional Catalan cuisine. Specialties include pica-pica, a three course meal of steamed shellfish, fried seafood, and a grilled seafood platter, cassolettes de guisats (rich meat stews) such as civet de senglar (wild boar stew with onions) and perdiu a la caçadora (stewed partridge), botifarra amb seques (pork sausage with white beans), and escudella (Catalan soup).

 

Pica-Pica - photo via Can Culleretes' Facebook page

Pica-Pica – photo via Can Culleretes’ Facebook page

 

The restaurant takes pride in their hand-made desserts and I recommend trying their menu del dia luncheon, only €17.50 for three courses (starter, main, dessert).

 

Can Culleretes
Carrer d’en Quintana, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Phone: +34 933 17 30 22
Open Tue-Sat 1:30pm-4:00pm, 9:00pm-11:00pm, Sun 1:30pm-4:00pm, closed Monday

 

 

Pacific Dining Car, Los Angeles, California

Friends have often heard me complain about the limited 24 hour eatery options in the Bay Area. New York City has a few, Chicago beats NYC by a mile, but Los Angeles is tops for 24-hour dining. There are scads of 24-hour coffee shops, hamburger and hot dog stands, taco shops, ethnic eateries, and most uniquely, even some fine dining restaurants. If you can sit down to eat a high quality meal at four o’clock in the morning on white linen with real silverware and fine china, served by professional waiters in dinner jackets and ties anywhere else in the U.S. I want to know about it!

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Pacific Dining Car opened in 1921, when Los Angeles was booming during the Roaring Twenties. Fred and Grace “Lovey” Cook moved to LA from back east and decided to open a small restaurant that was like a railroad dining car. Many people think the original restaurant is in an actual railroad car but the Cooks had the car built to their specifications so it would be large enough to accommodate a lunch counter, some tables and chairs, and the kitchen. They outfitted it with wheels so it could be moved, which came in handy in 1923 because the land it was on at 7th & Westlake was sold, so the Cooks had to move the little café to 6th & Witmer at the western edge of downtown, where it still stands to this day, wheels and all.

 

timeline

Lovey’s pies became a quick hit in town and soon business was booming. In the 20s Fred Cook started serving high quality steaks from USDA prime aged beef, eventually installing his own curing box so he could age the beef on-site, a practice that continues today. The Cook’s survived the Depression and opened the successful Cook’s Steak House at 645 S Olive St. in 1935 (demolished). Lovey’s son-in-law Wes Idol ran the new venture. Both restaurants attracted many celebrities of the silver screen, writers, and even the notorious Mickey Cohen.

 

Cook's Steakhouse

Cook’s Steak House via Pinterest

 

Fred passed away in 1947 and Lovey continued to run PDC 7 days a week, except when the restaurant closed for three months per year during the summer, when a sign was put at the entrance reading “Too D. hot in L.A. Gone Fishing. Why the H. don’t you go, too?”. By 1960, Lovey was over 80, so her daughter Virginia, son-in-law Wes, and grandson Wes Idol II purchased the restaurant and remodeled it during the summer closure, reopening it as a “year ’round” restaurant, adding air conditioning so it could stay open during the summertime.

 

Pacific Dining Car 1968 menu

menu from 1968

 

Pacific Dining Car vintage matchbook

via Los Angeles Magazine

When Wes senior passed away in 1970, Wes II bought the restaurant from his mother Virginia, again remodeling it close to its present appearance. Wes II expanded the menu and wine list, while retaining the PDC standards of prime aged steaks. At one time there was also a Pacific Dining Car at 501 30th St in Newport Beach (as spotted on a vintage matchbook image; since demolished). I do not know when PDC started 24-hour service. This vintage matchbook shows limited dinner hours. But at some point it went 24-hours and in 1990 a PDC was opened in Santa Monica, also open 24-hours. These days, Wes Idol III runs PDC, amazingly owned by the same family for 95 years!

 

 

Pacific Dining Car original dining room

original dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Pacific Dining Car has many dining rooms, but my favorite is the original dining car, which has been remodeled over the years to its present Victorian dining car look of varnished wood, plush high-back booths, tables with green crushed velvet chairs, windows with tasselled valances, brass luggage racks holding vintage suitcases, and classic lamps.

Past the wine room you enter the bar (with TV) and the adjacent Club Car dining room, which is decorated with many historic photos; worth a peek if you aren’t dining there.

 

Pacific Dining Car dining room

Club Car next to the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

At the other side of the original dining car, just past the kitchen, is the Northern Pacific Room, in a Craftsman style with green walls and ceiling, lots of wood, blue crushed velvet chairs, and chandeliers made from antlers. A very interesting room that was used as a film set. Also, there is the Astor Room, the Huntington Room, and the Wine Room. Wow! More photos of the the various dining rooms.

 

antler chandelier in Northern Pacific Room, Pacific Dining Car

antler chandelier in Northern Pacific Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Since this is primarily a steakhouse all the menus feature steaks from prime aged corn-fed beef , but there are many other meat, seafood, and vegetable options. Breakfast is served 24 hours a day. I love their blueberry pancakes, top sirloin steak ‘n eggs, and lyonnaise potatoes. Or you could go New Orleans style and get eggs Sardou, artichoke bottoms over creamed spinach, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.

 

Pacific Dining Car steak 'n eggs

top sirloin steak ‘n eggs with lyonnaise potatoes -photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Lunch is served from 11am to 4pm and features salads, steaks, seafood, sandwiches, and other entrees. Afternoon tea is offered daily from 3pm to 5:30pm. The dinner menu is served 24-hours a day and offers an extensive array of steak and seafood entrees and combinations. Make no mistake, PDC is an expensive restaurant. Their famous cowboy steak, a bone-in ribeye, will set you back almost $80 à la carte and their famous baseball steak, a thick top sirloin will cost you almost $50 on the dinner menu. However you can go after 11:00pm and save a lot. Their late night menu served from 11pm to 6am offers many of their popular selections at reduced prices and some include sides while their regular dinner menu counterparts may not.

 

Pacific Dining Car rib steak

Cowboy Steak – via beefaficionado.blogspot.com

 

Note on their steaks: the steaks are well seasoned and cooked over charcoal with a good dark crust (as you can see above). If you don’t like your steak that well seared you should ask if they can cook it with less of a dark crust. Also, after reading a lot of online reviews complaining about the Pacific Dining Car’s baseball cut being “dry”, I have this to say: top sirloin is a beefy but relatively lean cut with a somewhat chewy texture. I love a good top sirloin for a steak-on-a-budget. But it’s not as well marbled as say a ribeye or strip steak so it’s not as juicy and it doesn’t have the melt-in-your-mouth feel of more fatty cuts. So don’t order the baseball steak if a chewy, beefy steak doesn’t appeal to you. I found my aged top sirloin served with eggs to be very flavorful!

 

Pacific Dining Car

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

The service is excellent: genteel, old fashioned, refined. Which makes the entire experience from a simpler, less hectic time. The crisp white linens, the real polished silverware and the fine china remind me of dining in a railroad dining car during the streamlined train era before Amtrak (luckily I was able to experience it in the 1970s on board the Denver and Rio Grande Western’s Zephyr, a remnant of the California Zephyr that held on until 1983). There is no music playing at the restaurant; just the sound of low conversation and polite dining. If you go late at night please don’t arrive drunk and make a lot of noise.

Sure, Pacific Dining Car is pricey, but it’s also priceless.

 

James Ellroy at Pacific Dining Car

James Ellroy in the Astor Room at Pacific Dining Car – via the Hollywood Reporter

James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential and other books, is a huge fan of Pacific Dining Car!

 

Pacific Dining Car
1310 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 483-6000
2700 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 453-4000
Open 24 hours with breakfast and dinner menus; lunch 11am-4pm; tea 3pm-5:30pm; late night menu 11pm-6am – at both locations